The Beautiful Leaf

This time of year we are all so enamored by flowers that it’s easy to overlook the value of colorful foliage in the garden.   Colored leaves come in many hues, from shades of purple-reds to bright chartreuse greens to shades of orange.  I’m not talking about fall color, here.  These colorful leaves can be enjoyed all summer in their bright hues.  Colorful foliage makes container gardens stand out from the crowd.  In perennial beds, colorful leaves can provide beauty when plants are between bloom cycles.  Colorful trees and shrubs stand out against the customary hues of green, becoming focal points of the garden.

Under the Sea Coleus "Bonefish" is a striking plant with bright chartreuse, serrated edges that add both texture and color.
Under the Sea Coleus “Bonefish” is a striking plant with bright chartreuse, serrated edges that add both texture and color.

Under the Sea Coleus, from Hort Couture Plants,  is a favorite for container gardens.  They come in several color combinations and sizes from tall to small.  Each is unique in the world of coleus.  All perform well in sun to part sun, in our Colorado climate.  Small leaved varieties sail through the heat of summer.  Large leaved cultivars, like “King Crab”  will benefit from some shade in the afternoon.

Most people don’t think about trees being colorful unless it’s fall.  There are, however, quite a few that shouldn’t be overlooked.

Best grown in a semi shaded area, protected from arid winter winds.
Japanese Maple “Shiraz”. Best grown in a semi shaded area, protected from arid winter winds.
Royal Red Norway Maple
Royal Red Norway Maples have large,richly colored, dark burgundy/mahogany leaves. These trees can reach 35′-40′ tall, providing ample shade. They tolerate pollution well, making them a great choice where there is high traffic.
Tricolor Beech have a decidedly pyramid shape while young. Like many of us, they round out a bit with age. They reach 25'-35' tall. They will do best in an eastern or north eastern exposure, in a partial sun area.
Tricolor Beech have a decidedly pyramid shape while young. Like many of us, they round out a bit with age. They reach 25′-35′ tall. They will do best in an eastern or north eastern exposure, in a partial sun area.

If landscapes had a sense of fashion, then dark leaved plants would be the “little black dress”.    They are always in style and every garden should have at least one in the wardrobe.   Japanese maples provide interesting structural form and many have colorful leaves that will turn a shady area into a mystical garden.

Heuchera Blackberry Ice is a staff favorite. The dark berry colored leaves dress up shady borders. Try using them in shady container gardens too.
Heuchera Blackberry Ice is a staff favorite. The dark berry colored leaves dress up shady borders. Try using them in shady container gardens too.

Heuchera is the coleus of perennials.  Every year, more new cultivars are introduced.  Most are relatively compact, making it easy to add them to existing garden beds or container gardens.

Heuchera Amber Lady shows off it's luscious leaves. Grow them in shady gardens.
Heuchera Amber Lady shows off it’s luscious leaves. Grow them in shady gardens.

Barberry are among the most versatile, sun-loving shrubs for Colorado.  They come in multiple sizes and shapes.  Most have colorful leaves, ranging from bright red/orange to lemony greens.  Tiny or tall, there’s so many shapes and sizes, it’s difficult to choose.   Their thorns make them less suitable for areas where people may brush against them.  That said, those thorn make them a great choice as a deterrent when planted around a home’s foundation, under windows.  Their berries provide food for birds and their density provides shelter.

Barberry Orange Rocket is a columnar shrub, ideal for creating a hedge in a narrow space. They can also be used as a centerpiece in container gardens. Just be sure to plant it in the ground in fall.
Barberry Orange Rocket is a columnar shrub, ideal for creating a hedge in a narrow space. They can also be used as a centerpiece in container gardens. Just be sure to plant it in the ground in fall.
Barberry comes in many colors and sizes. They dress up sunny garden areas and can be used in borders, as hedges or as accent shrubs. Few shrubs are as versatile.
Barberry comes in many colors and sizes. They dress up sunny garden areas and can be used in borders, as hedges or as accent shrubs. Few shrubs are as versatile.

Evergreens, in both tree and shrub forms, are hardy additions to Colorado gardens.  They thrive in full sun and manage to look fabulous despite our arid late summer conditions.  They take wild temperature swings in stride, making them ideal in a climate with more than 40 freeze/thaw cycles each year.

Juniper "Sea of Gold" is a dramatic shrub that provides garden color year round.
Juniper “Sea of Gold” is a dramatic shrub that provides garden color year round.

Say the word “juniper” and some people  cringe, thinking of prickly shrubs filled with spider webs.  Today’s junipers come in many textures and sizes.  Some are great for use as low growing shrubs.  Others, like the one pictured, are drama queens, with soft needles and dense branching.

There’s more than one way to enjoy a colorful garden.  So try some colorful leaves in your garden and see how dramatically they change the look of your landscape.

 

Itoh Peonies

Peonies are one of the most adored spring flowers.  There are some recent hybrids that are truly spectacular.  Itoh peonies are named for hybridizer Toichi Itoh.  They are hybrids between tree peonies and herbaceous peonies, a.k.a intersectional hybrids.itoh peony keiko

The best traits of both parent plants come together to give these plants incredible garden performance.  Strong stems are capable of supporting their sizable blooms.  No more nodding flowers that can’t be enjoyed in their full glory.  The strong stems also mean they make fabulous cut flowers.  Itoh peonies have increased vigor, durability, and long life in the garden.  In addition to all those improvements, Itoh peonies produce primary and secondary buds, which means many more flowers, up to 50 on mature plants.

itoh peony mikasa

Like their herbaceous parent, they die back to the ground in winter and often have a light fragrance.   Like all peonies, they should be mulched well in the fall to stabilize the ground temperature during the winter freeze/thaw cycles.

While we’re on the topic of peonies, let’s dispel a common myth.  Peonies do not need ants in order to bloom.  Ants are often seen on peony blooms simply because they are attracted to their sweet nectar secreted by peonies as they bud.  The ants don’t harm the flowers.  They are just after the carbohydrates in the nectar.  If you are concerned about ants on your peonies when you are ready to display them indoors as cut flowers, dip the blooms in water to help rinse away potential hitchhikers.

Fall Containers, Not Just for Pansies Anymore

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Fall automatically brings to mind changing colors and inspires us to change out our tender summer annuals for new shades. Traditional pansies and mums are a classic seasonal adornment to bridge the gap from summer to winter, but have you tried combining them with other late-season color? Try some of these ideas and you’ll have containers you’ll love through to Thanksgiving. Most of these are perennials, so they can be pulled out and planted in the ground when you are ready to change out for holiday decorations.

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Ornamental Kale/Cabbage- most commonly found as large rosettes in shades of green, icy blue-green, purple, pink, or red, kales are long-lasting and easy to maintain. Annual.

flowering kale
Sedum- covers a wide range of colors, textures, and heights. Some varieties are only a few inches tall, while others such as Autumn Joy can reach 2 feet. Mixing varieties in the same container can produce an amazing results—a tall, billowing sedum in the back of a pot can be nicely balanced by ‘Dragons Blood’ spilling off the front in shades of red (or ‘Angelina’ for yellow). Many varieties have quarter-size fleshy leaves that shift in tone from cool blues to fall tones.
Euphorbias- flower vividly in the spring and have red/orange/yellow leaves as fall sets in. Foliage texture can be rigidly upright to wispy and delicate. Some have a full & fluffy look, while others are more airy.
Heucheras/ Coral Bells – Available in a wide range of fall colors from deep, rich purples to caramel. Green varieties blend to reds and purples as the season progresses and add a sophisticated flair.
Rudbeckia- Plants (and flowers!) can be mammoth or miniscule depending on variety. ‘Toto’ reaches a pint-sized 1’ in height and bronzed ‘Autumn Colors’ will reach 2+’. Also in the tall group are ‘Indian Summer’ and ‘Prairie Sun’. ‘Goldsturm’ has smaller flowers but a ton of them.

 

Rudbeckia
Ornamental Grasses- Easy fillers that come in a range of tones. Provide structure and overall form for the combination.

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Now that you have some ideas, how to put them together? Generally speaking, container plantings look best when you follow the adage “Thriller, Spiller, Filler”. Sedums can be any of those, depending on the varieties you select. Euphorbias are likely to be fillers or thrillers. Rudbeckias make a great thriller, and heucheras are lovely fillers. Adding back in the mums and pansies, a large patio pot might contain:

1 Autumn Joy Sedum
1 Grass, Zebra (yellow and green)
2 Heucheras- one purple, one red or caramel
1 6pk pansies, any colors , 2 Mums, any color
1 Kale

For a smaller container, try:
1 kale
1 mum
2 small sedums

Chrysanthemum

Remember to pull out and plant perennials in the ground if you would like to have them come back next spring- plants are less likely to overwinter successfully in containers.

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